Street Legal

27 Oct


It’s been a while since I’ve featured Bob Dylan, so from 1978 comes ‘Street Legal’. I bought the vinyl while at university but that’s currently in storage so I’m listening to a CD on Columbia (COL 494788 2) bought for the bargain price of £3 when Northampton’s finest independent music store had its closing down sale.  A label on it tells me that its a Sony Music nice price issue, ‘Remixed and remastered! Restored to Original Packaging!’.  Since I am not (quite) a Dylan obsessive, I’ve no idea whether the hard-core afficionados rate this  remastering in the pantheon of recordings!

This was utterly unlike any other Dylan album I’d heard (Spector-ish backing vocals, big horn section) but I rather liked it because the songs were strong and the production was accessible and radio-friendly. The musicians included a couple of veterans of the previous studio album (‘Desire‘) so, even though I’d come to terms with the idea he might not ever work with The Band again, a bit of continuity was welcome.

There are nine tracks on this album and four of them are, for me at least, Dylan classics :

Classic 1: ‘Changing of the Guards’: The album opens with a big, Big, saxophone riffing at the front of the mix and a lyric that seemed to anticipate change, to herald impatience and to be dissatisfied, I guess that this  seemed to be about Dylan’s need/wish to re-focus after a turbulent time in his personal life. Possibly my favourite track in the whole collection.

Classic 2: ‘Is Your Love in Vain’. This came in for a bit of stick from some of my feminist friends for the lyrics: “Can you cook and sew?/Make flowers grow?/Do you understand my pain?/ Will I be able to count on you/ Or is your love in vain?” Hmm. However it was the first stanza that did it for me (written by a bloke in the middle of a messy divorce and uncertain of himself): “Do your love me, or are you just extending goodwill ?/Do you need me half as bad as you say, or are you just feeling guilt ?/I’ve been burned before and I know the score/So you won’t hear me complain/Will I be able to count on you?/Or is you love in vain ?

Classic 3: ‘Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)’ is the track that best encapsulates the uncertain, ominous,  threatening vibe of the album for me:  ‘Señor, señor, do you know where we’re heading’?/ Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?’. This track seemed to resolve itself in the following album (‘Slow Train Coming’) for which it is a curtain-raiser.

Classic 4: ‘No Time To Think’. I don’t know anyone else who likes this song as much as I do – but the lyrics are among the most Dylanesque of all in that they could have been written by no-one else!

Overall, a collection that is often overlooked but one to which I return regularly. In part that’s because it was in July 1978, that I travelled with a group of friends to Blackbushe Airfield in Hampshire, for the one-day Picnic festival with a bill that included Dylan, Eric Clapton, Graham Parker and Joan Armatrading. And damn good it was too!


One Response to “Street Legal”

  1. esther millson November 28, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Wrt Classic 2. And, as a feminist, the first and second parts are wholly coherent, I reckon. I can cook and sew and make flowers grow, but those facets don’t preclude other ones.

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